Allmusic‘s Matt Collar: “Duke Ellington & John Coltrane showcased the rising jazz saxophone innovator performing alongside the long-established piano institution. While the pairing might have portended a dynamic clash of the musical generations, instead we got a casual, respectful, and musically generous meeting of like-minded souls.” Maybe a little too casual, I’d say: I don’t see myself reaching for anything except “In a Sentimental Mood” after writing this. In other words, this starts great, then slowly dissolves into something significantly less great and something more solid (/reliant on the brand presences of who’s involved). And being solid’s fine unless you’re Duke Ellington & John Coltrane, where it just don’t cut it.
Maybe it’s Duke Ellington’s significantly reduced role: he’s barely featured on either “Take the Coltrane” (appropriately named; this could’ve been slotted in on any earlier John Coltrane album and no one would’ve been the wiser) or “Big Nick”, getting a solo on both that’s used as breathing room before harmonizing briefly with Coltrane on the main theme during the outro. What results in when he introduces “Stevie,” it’s like … oh hey man, where you been? Even though he’s been there (sort of) the whole time. Of course, “Stevie” itself ends up problematic because of Sam Woodyard’s insistent and annoying drum thwack during Coltrane’s part, and audible voices that detract from the experience. On the other side of the album, “My Little Brown Book” and “Angelica” are more evenly split the duties between the two artists (the latter has Elvin Jones playing something a little out of his style at first; I assumed it was Sam Woodyard at first). Nothing happens on the mistitled “The Feeling of Jazz.”
Which brings me to “In a Sentimental Mood”, which is just a treat (I mean, come on – you get to hear a great Ellington solo over Elvin Jones!). Ellington’s piano lines – evocative of starry nights that you don’t see anymore given the rising number of 24 h franchises and taller condos in your wen – bolster John Coltrane’s yearning melody, which (for once) doesn’t overpower Ellington. A generational and aesthetic gap bridged like they were the same age and best friends.
Final thought: the cycling between John Coltrane’s rhythm section and Duke Ellington’s own, as well as the cycling between a more laid-back approach (“In a Sentimental Mood”; “My Little Brown Book”) and a more confrontational one (“Take the Coltrane”; “Big Nick”) reminds me of Miles Davis’ Seven Steps to Heaven released that same year. I’m actually not a fan of that one – a transitional album if there ever was one – but there was something transportative about its itinerant approach born out of using two different sets of musicians for each alternating song. Duke Ellington & John Coltrane‘s the better album, but it’s not as transportative despite the set-up being – euh – slightly the same. A causality from it being too casual.